HC Deb 10 February 1943 vol 386 cc1359-75
Captain C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Order in Council, dated 13th January, 1943, made under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, 1939 and 1940, adding Regulation 14 to the Defence (Armed Forces) Regulations, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 19th January, be annulled. First let me say that there is no unfriendly motive behind this Motion which stands in the name of hon. Members and myself. I am sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend will acknowledge this fact as he is well aware of the reasons which prompted hon. Members and myself to table the Motion. Although I personally approve of the suggestion that all Orders in Council and Regulations of this sort should be submitted to a Select Committee of this House for consideration, that is not the point which I want to press to-day. Rather do I want to ask for an explanation of why this Order in particular is considered necessary. In the Army any officer who requisitions property, or private dwelling houses, or other buildings, must be an officer of field rank; that is to say, he must have the rank of major or above. A flight-lieutenant in the Royal Air Force is the equivalent in rank in the R.A.F. of a captain in the Army, and I want to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend why he wishes the Air Ministry to give powers to such a comparatively junior officer, who may, in many cases, have only a few months of commissioned service. Why must the existing rule under which a squadron-leader or an officer of rank above a squadron-leader has these extensive powers now been altered?

When I was only a captain in the Army, before reaching the exalted level of field rank, I had to submit requisitioning notices to my brigadier for his approval and his signature. That happened in the days immediately after the withdrawal from Dunkirk, when Britain was under the stress and strain of imminent invasion, when decisions had to be taken at a moment's notice, and when we all realised that the country was in very grave and serious danger. Times are very different now. I think hon. Members will agree that decisions need not be taken quite so hastily as they were in those days, and that with less hasty decisions we shall avoid many of the mistakes which unfortunately were made in the days immediately after Dunkirk, and which have been made in the past. All of us from time to time have received complaints from our constituents that houses and property, and by that I mean the homes and the "castles" of the people, have been requisitioned quite unnecessarily and subsequently have been de-requisitioned by the requisitioning authority. I can speak with personal feeling on this point, because my own house was requisitioned, not by the Air Ministry, I admit, and subsequently, after a period of months, was de-requisitioned. Although not a great deal of damage was done, because it was occupied by the Army, a great inconvenience was caused to me by what obviously was a mistake. We want to avoid these mistakes at all costs where-ever possible, and as no immediate emergency prevails, why should not these very extensive requisitioning powers continue to be vested in a senior officer or a comparatively senior officer of the Royal Air Force?

After all, a senior officer is able to make and take a responsible decision. We do not want to see our houses treated as barracks and desecrated without reason by persons who have no personal interest in their upkeep whatever, and I feel that every safeguard that can be provided should be provided. We have been at war now for some three and a half years, and this Regulation has not been considered necessary in the past. Why, I ask, is it necessary now? What circumstances have arisen which makes this change desirable? I feel that the House should demand an explanation from my right hon. and gallant Friend why the Air Ministry are asking for this Order to be included in the Defence Regulations. Without any reflection upon the administrative ability of my right hon. and gallant Friend, I regret to say that in my own experience, speaking only personally, the Air Ministry, or the R.A.F., have the worst name as far as requisitioning of property is concerned. To give an example, an hotel in my constituency was requisitioned recently, and in that hotel, perhaps unlike many other hotels throughout the country, there were very many valuable works of art and furniture. I imagine that the decision to requisition that property was taken hastily, before suitable arrangements could be made for the removal of those works of art and the furniture. No adequate arrangements were made to protect my constituent against damage to his furniture or from petty pilfering, and I feel that had some senior officer been responsible for the requisitioning of that property, those difficulties would never have arisen. I think that everybody will agree that this is wrong. I have quoted this one instance, but I could quote many, and I am perfectly certain that hon. Members on all sides could quote similar instances.

It may be said by my right hon. and gallant Friend that the administration of the Air Force is a very particular job and that the senior ranks are perhaps flying, carrying out operational duties, and that consequently it is necessary to delegate these powers to a junior officer. I cannot altogether agree with that; it is merely shelving the responsibility. I would have hon. Members realise that the administrative officer in any Army unit, the adjutant, the person who is responsible for the administration side, is only a captain; he cannot requisition property but has to go to his company commander, who is a major, or higher up, to get a signature for a requisition notice. In moving this Motion, I do ask that a satisfactory explanation shall be given to the House why this Regulation is considered necessary.

Mr. Arthur Duckworth (Shrewsbury)

I beg to second the Motion.

I shall speak very briefly in support of my hon. and gallant Friend, who has cogently expressed the dislike and the distrust which many of us feel for a Defence Regulation of this kind. We feel that it can only be justified if it can be shown that it is urgently necessary in the interests of the Service Department concerned for the successful prosecution of the war, and it is certainly our duty, as Members of this House, to ask the Minister to justify it on the Floor of the House on those grounds. It may be that he will have no great difficulty in doing so, although as the Order reads, and with the limited knowledge we have, I think we have no reason whatever to think that that will be the case. After all, this Order confers on comparatively junior officers of the R.A.F. certain rather arbitrary powers in the matter of billeting, and they are powers that have hitherto been confined to an officer of the rank of squadron-leader. The Army have not come to this House and asked for simliar powers, and I understand that in the case of the Army, as my hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out, they are confined to an officer of the rank of major.

As my hon. and gallant Friend has already said, this matter of requisitioning premises for billeting does often fall very hardly on the civilian population, but I think that the public recognise that it is absolutely necessary in war-time, and they are prepared to put up with a certain amount of hardship and great inconvenience on certain conditions. I would say that these conditions are as follow: In the first place, they wish to be satisfied that these Orders really are necessary, and, in the second, that the decisions taken in connection with requisitioning for billeting are made by senior and by responsible officers. It is quite easy to imagine that in the days of our greatest stress and emergency there may have been many instances where it was necessary to secure accommodation at the very shortest possible notice, and where senior officers could not have been available at the time on the spot. But we were not asked at that time to confer these powers on the Royal Air Force. At that time, apparently, it was found that officers of the rank of squadron leader were readily available to make these orders. It is very hard to understand why at this stage of the war the Minister should ask us to give him these powers. I hope therefore the Minister will be able to offer some sufficient explanation.

Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

I rise to support the Motion. With the complaint of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Captain Taylor) about the manner in which troops, and, of course, members of the Air Force, use the places in which they are billeted, I have a certain amount of sympathy, but I would ask him to bear in mind that soldiers and airmen in war-time obviously cannot take the same care of the places they occupy as the average citizen does. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?".] Because of the equipment of the soldier, from his boots upwards, it is obvious that as soon as he enters a house damage is likely to occur, even if he is most careful. As I understand the Order, it deals with billeting, and not with requisitioning. Requisitioning is the taking over—at least it is in the Army—of unfurnished premises, while billeting means the placing of troops into the homes of private citizens, or it may be into licensed premises. If you are going to give power to force airmen or soldiers into the homes of the people of this country, merely on the word of a flight lieutenant, I think you will be giving much too wide powers to an officer of that status. Overseas it would never have been considered right that an officer of that rank should have imposed British soldiers upon foreigners, even though they were our Allies. What is right for the populations of countries overseas where our soldiers are billeted should be right for this country. We have to retain the good will of the civilian population of this country. That is implicit in the Army and Air Force Annual Act. It is a serious and stringent power to give to any member of the Fighting Forces, to impose his troops on the homes of the people, which we have always understood were almost sacrosanct. We realise that in war-time we have to get shelter for troops, not only British, but also foreign troops in this country.

The civilian population have responded very well, and have shown great hospitality to those members of the Fighting Forces who have been billeted on them; but there is a danger of that feeling being dissipated if these powers are used improperly, as they might well be by officers of junior rank. This Motion is not one which my right hon. and gallant Friend need resist. Surely it is not a point of great substance to him whether the billeting is done by a flight lieutenant or by a squadron leader. I should imagine that there are enough squadron leaders for it to be possible to find one in the most isolated spots. Why should we give these powers to a flight lieutenant when in the Army they are available only to officers who hold at least field rank? I urge my right hon. and gallant Friend to give consideration to the points put to him from both sides of the House. I do not think it is worth his while to resist, because he should do all in his power to continue those good relations which now exist between civilians and the Fighting Forces, and if possible to make them even better.

Mr. Woodburn (Clackmannan and Stirling, Eastern)

I want to make one point in support of this Motion. In my constituency we have had some experience of billeting, in regard to another Department. It has led to a great deal of difficulty, both for the billetees and for the people with whom they are billeted. It is not mainly a question of industrial workers. While every care has been taken, difficulties arise, even under the best circumstances. These difficulties have been overcome through great tact on the part of the billeting officer. If the Air Force are going into an area where billet- ing is already in operation, there is a chance that they will duplicate and overlap the existing billeting arrangements. In this case, the Admiralty are working through a billeting officer, who is the town clerk or a local official of the civil authority. Would not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman consider using the existing billeting authorities for doing this work, instead of allowing it to be done by his officers? That would avoid duplication and a great deal of irritation which might arise between his Department and another Department, or between his Department and the civil authorities: and it would be a much better arrangement altogether.

Major Gates (Middleton and Prestwich)

I support this Motion on a question of principle. From what I have heard, the Air Ministry has the worst reputation of all three Services over this question of billeting and requisitioning, and this seems to be a suitable opportunity to call the attention of the Minister to this matter in a friendly way. There seems to be a failure on the part of the Air Ministry to co-operate, and a tendency not to co-ordinate the billeting and requisitioning. Although this is not quite a case of billeting, I would like to mention an instance which I think is very much in point. It is a question of the erection of perimeter lights for a new aerodrome, the name of which I am prepared to give the right hon, and gallant Gentleman later. It was necessary to put up poles to carry the lights. It was a question of requisitioning for wayleave, not of billeting. Some of these poles have been put up, to the perturbation and annoyance of local farmers, in fields of growing wheat, where they are 20 yards out from the headland. I took the trouble to interview the operational pilots of that aerodrome, to find out whether it would have made any difference to their operational efficiency if those poles had been set by the hedge, into the headland, instead of 20 yards out, in the growing wheat. They assured me it would not have made the slightest difference to their operational efficiency. It is clear that what happened was that a plan was drawn, a circle was made on the map, and it was said that the perimeter lights must be put within that circle. There was no attempt to co-operate with the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food, to see whether digging those holes would occasion damage to the fields. I would suggest that the Air Ministry on this matter has a reputation to live down, and that the Minister, rather than seeking powers to enable officers of junior rank to undertake this considerable responsibility of requisitioning, should send a strong Air Council Instruction to senior officers, calling attention to their obligation to the community on this question of requisitioning. An Englishman's home is his castle. We are fighting for freedom. To interfere in this matter of billeting is a very grave step. Although I am a very junior officer of field rank, I feel that the responsibility should be with officers of the Air Force who are not merely of my own, but of even higher, status.

Mr. Reakes (Wallasey)

I rise to support this Motion because I appreciate how serious it is for mistakes to be made by junior officers, or even senior officers, in the matter of requisitioning or billeting. My constituency has had to suffer a great deal in that respect. The hon. and gallant Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Major Gates) has cited a case. I can give one far worse. A junior officer requisitioned a spot for a balloon barrage, and planted the balloon barrage in the middle of a bowling green. That indicated a lack of consideration, and a lack of responsibility. It is not so serious in the case of a bowling green; but when it is a question of property, it becomes extremely serious in a constituency like mine, where we have had a lot of bombing to endure. We want men of advanced years to deal with these matters. Although people are willing to co-operate with the Services, they want to feel they are being given due consideration. I think that the hon. Members who have supported the Motion have made out a good case. When we are dealing with the civilian population, and particularly with that portion of it which have suffered loss and damage to property, we should give them every consideration. I cannot see any reason why the Prayer should not be accepted in the spirit in which it has been moved and in the interests of the people. When the war is over the great problem, will be that of housing, and we want to feel that we are not misusing property, and, if it must be handed over to the authorities, that it is being handed over at the request of men who have had experience of life and who realise how necessary it is to show consideration to those with whom they desire co-operation.

Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)

I would like to make one small point, and I apologise if I should repeat what has already been said. Would not the whole matter be solved if the Order made it clear that the officers were of the substantive rank of flight-lieutenant? Practically every substantive flight-lieutenant in the Air Force to-day is enjoying the acting rank of at least squadron-leader or wing-commander. The public can only take the R.A.F. officer at stripe value but the Service knows what a man's real rank is. If it were laid down that permission should be granted to an officer of the substantive rank of flight-lieutenant, it would not really be less than squadron-leader who would actually do the requisitioning.

Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)

I have very little sympathy with the Prayer in so far as it takes exception to the right of the officer charged with this responsibility. My difficulty, irrespective of whether they are junior or senior officers, is to get the various requisitioning Ministries to admit that they have made a mistake. I say definitely that the present method, irrespective of the rank of officer, is wrong. Why requisitioning and billeting cannot be carried through by a central authority acting for all parties, I do not know. In the district where I am a member of the local authority we had 13 blocks of a new modern hospital completed—the only thing lacking was the equipment—and the building was requisitioned by the Army, but not for the purposes of a hospital. They proceeded to spend £31,000 on adapting the place as a depot for the Army. The mortar and brickwork for the alterations were scarcely dry when the Air Force came along, took over the place, knocked down the partition walls which the Army had built and shifted the position three feet either way. They proceeded to spend £11,000, plus £39,000, which, with the original £31,000 spent by the Army, made a sum of over £80,000, and still they did not use the buildings for the purpose for which they were erected. I do not know whether a lieutenant, a flight-commander or a commodore was responsible, but they also proceeded to use materials that are in short supply, such as the material for wrapping, plumbers' fitments, and padding for the linoleum to make the place nice and comfortable. They cut an inch off all the doors to permit of their being opened over the padded linoleum, and the most luxuriously upholstered furniture arrived, so that everybody would feel at home. A N.A.A.F.I. canteen established by the Army authorities was altered to suit the R.A.F. To crown all, the Army come along and go into a town-planning area and propose to uproot trees on what was to be a permanent amenity. What do they propose doing? Build a hospital. This is rather a serious matter. Over £80,000 has been spent between the two Services, and now they propose to spend possibly another £160,000, making provision for the buildings they themselves have taken over. That is an absurd position.

It is not a question of the rank of the officer doing the requisitioning. There are too many of these fellows going about the country with sheaves of requisitioning forms, which they stick under the door like serving a notice to quit, and that is the end of it. Is there a Minister who will admit that he has made a mistake? That would never do. The difficulties of hon. Members are that they have to treat with the Admiralty, the War Office, and the R.A.F., and I suppose that by the time they have pursued all the different Departments the Departments think that the war will have been finished and all will be forgotten. I would impress upon the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the necessity of having a central requisitioning authority, upon which there would be the representatives of all the three Services. One authority should do the requisitioning, and they should be satisfied, first, that the requisitioning is necessary and, secondly, that what they propose to requisition will cause the least inconvenience and cost the least possible sum of money.

May I have the assurance of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that the position with regard to the R.A.F. station to which I have drawn his attention will be considered? I do not want to be misunderstood. If this were a fighter or a bomber station where these lads were to come back for rest after doing strenuous duty, I should be the last man in the world to raise any objection. They deserve all the comfort we can give them, but it is a sheer waste of public money to put three inches of packing under linoleum in war-time. I ask for an assurance that, if we do not support the Prayer insisting upon an officer of higher rank—I think that officers of higher rank are often very silly and less experienced in dealing with property than some of the younger men—steps shall be taken so that there will be closer co-ordination between the Services in connection with requisitioning and billeting.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)

I can take no exception either to the Order being raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Captain Taylor) or to the tenor of the speeches which have been made as regards this Order. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) asked for a sympathetic reply from me to the representations made against this Order. I would only ask that equally I may have a sympathetic appreciation of hon. Members of the House as regards the arguments which I hope to put forward in support of this particular Regulation. Let us clear our minds as to what this proposed Order really is. We have had most interesting speeches from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne, the hon. and gallant Member for Middleton (Major Gates), the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Reakes) and the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire, (Mr. McKinlay) on the very important subject of requisitioning on which much could be said and upon which a lot of time could be spent profitably debating the merits and demerits of our present procedure, but it has not to do with the Order at all. This Order has nothing to do with the requisitioning of property at all. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire asked me in a powerful and moving peroration that I should give him an assurance as regards a particular instance of requisitioning. He knows as well as I do that I can give him no such assurance, and did I endeavour to do so Mr. Deputy-Speaker could quite easily rule me out of Order for dealing with a subject which is not germane to this particular Order or to the Prayer, and I am not going to risk it. Equally the hon. and gallant Member for Middle-ton raised the question of wayleaves— very important no doubt, and if he will write to me about it, I will try to get him all the facts and information I can, but I have equally to admit that it has nothing at all to do with the particular question of billeting.

The hon. and gallant Member who moved the Prayer asked for an explanation as to why the Regulation is necessary, and he very charmingly explained to me afterwards why it was not necessary in the same way as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. A. Duckworth). He said that we would only be justified in bringing the Order forward if we proved that it was necessary, but he condemned me at once by saying that it was clear that I could not do that. He made me feel that I should be embarking upon rather a hopeless task unless I was absolutely certain of the ground upon which I was standing. I propose to explain firstly, what this Order does, secondly why it is necessary, and thirdly why we are proceeding in the present manner. The Order in Council of 13th January concerning which this Prayer has been moved adds Regulation 14 to the Defence (Armed Forces) Regulations, 1939, adding to the powers defined in Section 108A of the Air Force Act. That particular Section says: His Majesty's Government by Order distinctly stating that a case of emergency exists and signified by a Secretary of State may authorise any officer not below the rank of squadron-leader"…. We propose to amend that to "flight-lieutenant." The proposed Regulation gives power to flight-lieutenants to issue billeting requisitions. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw touched upon a very vital question of the need for good relationship to be retained between the civilian population and the Armed Forces of the Crown, with which I am heartily in agreement. It is not the case, as he foreshadowed, that this Order or indeed Section 108A allows Air Force officers to force people into civilian homes in this country. All that this Order does is to allow a flight-lieutenant to sign a billeting requisition, which is only an intimation that so much accommodation is required, and that intimation goes to the police. It is the local police who have the responsibility of finding the billets, and not the Air Force officer. I hope that that will have cleared his mind on that particular point. The reason for this Regulation is because experience—

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

May we understand the position? We are told that the responsibility for finding actual billets falls upon the local police. What kind of directions are given by the requisitioning officers to the police? We are thinking of the exercise of these functions in perhaps a remote part of the country. The local police in some places have very little choice in that matter at all.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman make a little clearer how it is done, because many of us get complaints about it, and it is a good thing to know the law on the subject?

Captain Balfour

If a party of men arrive at a certain place and require billeting accommodation, the billeting order is signed at present by a squadron-leader. We are now asking for power to enable a flight-lieutenant to sign it. The requisition then goes to the local billeting authority, normally the police, who are asked to get accommodation as near as possible to where the men are working. It is the responsibility of the police to do their best.

Mr. Tinker

Have the police the final say in determining what shall be the billets?

Captain Balfour

So far as I know, but the police cannot find billets in any place if billets are not available.

Sir A. Beit

Is it not a fact that the police take these requisitions as orders which have to be obeyed?

Captain Balfour

Obviously, common sense enters into the question. Nobody tries to force an issue and get billets where they do not exist. The reason we are asking for this Regulation is that experience has shown us that serious inconvenience and dislocation are caused by the fact that only an officer not below the rank of squadron-leader can sign these billeting requisition orders. For instance, we have found difficulty, in the Maintenance Command, which has the task of looking after small isolated units where perhaps there are single aircraft and has often to send out parties to deal with aircraft which have crashed.

They have to dismantle these aircraft and bring them in—a task peculiar to the Royal Air Force. In the Army there is nothing comparable to that particular requirement. There are many small and isolated units which are set up under an officer of a rank junior to squadron-leader as commanding officer. Under the present Regulations a squadron-leader has to be found, wherever such an officer may be, in order to sign the billeting requisition. I am sure the House will understand that such procedure entails a loss of time and unnecessary travel. We have, furthermore, a constant interchange of men. Suppose a party has to salve a wrecked aircraft. Perhaps the instruments are required, so instrument men come out for one or two days and take them away. Then another two men may come out to dismantle the armament, the hydraulics or some other component. These men have to be found accommodation. If the unit is commanded by a flight-lieutenant, it means that at present he has to find a squadron-leader at the parent unit or some other unit to sign the requisition.

I want to assure the House that it is our intention to continue the procedure of billeting requisitions being signed normally by officers of the rank of squadron-leader or above that rank. It is my duty to endeavour to persuade Members not to press this Motion, because we really do want this Order. I am willing to give this assurance, that we will tell Commands that this Order, if we are allowed to have it, is only to be used when there is no squadron-leader available. If no squadron-leader is available but a flight-lieutenant is available, then the flight-lieutenant may use these powers. There is no attempt here on the part of the Air Ministry to ride roughshod over the civilian population. I am glad that this matter has been ventilated, because as well as being a member of the Executive, I am a House of Commons man, and I am all for the supremacy of the Legislature over the Executive. In this case the Legislature has arraigned the Executive—that is myself—and has asked the Executive to justify these proposals. I hope I have given a reasonable and fair explanation as to why these proposals are necessary and an assurance that administratively we shall only use these powers as and when necessary in order to minimise trouble and make the war effort by so much more efficient.

An alternative method of proceeding by Defence Regulation would have been to have a Regulation which amended the Air Force Act. Such Amendment would have been incorporated, subject to Parliament's consent, in the Air Force Act, 1943, and the powers would have continued year after year unless Parliament decreed otherwise, whereas by this method the powers we are asking the House to allow us to have will lapse automatically when His Majesty decrees that the state of emergency has lapsed. We need the powers for only a limited period. Had we had to ask for an amendment of the Air Force Act, we should have put ourselves into the position of asking for powers for a longer period than we do, in fact, want them for. Therefore, I hope the House will realise that there is no attempt on the part of the Executive to flout the guardians of the rights of the civil population and will allow us to have this Regulation.

Mr. Mathers

I feel sure that in the light of the statement made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the good temper which has prevailed during this discussion the withdrawal of the Prayer will ensue. To many of us, looking at this Order, it seemed that the last Ministry to come before us for an Order of this kind should be the Air Ministry. I say that because of the youth of the personnel of the Royal Air Force. In this question of interfering with the homes of the people the glorious youth of the Royal Air Force is a disadvantage rather than the advantage it is to us in other respects. The Minister has met us reasonably and although I do not want to strike a controversial note I do want to contrast the discussion on this Order with a discussion that took place on another Order during our last series of Sittings when the Minister involved was a member of my own party. On that occasion there was no question of a request to the Minister to be kind enough to give an explanation of it; there was a demand for his scalp and an annulment of the Order—

Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I ask whether, if this case is to be made from the other side, we are to be allowed to reply to it?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)

I had my eye on the hon. Mem- ber as he was speaking and I was about to rise to say that he must not discuss what happened on that occasion.

Mr. Mathers

I can assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I saw your eye upon me and I was aware of the danger I was running.

Mr. Pickthorn

The hon. Member knew he could not be answered.

Mr. Mathers

If I were allowed to discuss the episode to which I made passing reference, I am sure I could justify the thoughts that were simmering in my mind as I listened to the admirable way in which the present discussion has been conducted.

Mr. Tinker

Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman withdraws the Motion—

Captain Taylor

How does the hon. Member know that I shall withdraw it?

Mr. Tinker

One can sense the atmosphere of the House. I want to say that I am very pleased this Debate has taken place. Those who read the Debate will be able to get some information as to what can be done and what are the powers of the Royal Air Force and the police in this matter.

Captain Taylor

I understand I have the right to reply. I will be very brief, because I think my right hon. and gallant Friend has been exceedingly helpful in the concessions he has made. I would like to point out to the House that this Order is very different from the Order that was discussed the other day.

Mr. Tinker

On a point of Order——

Captain Taylor

I regard the suggestion of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) as iniquitous. It is stirring up party politics and a breach of the political truce.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. and gallant Member must not discuss that.

Captain Taylor

I am sorry Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I agree the whole argument is rather contemptible. I am glad to hear from my right hon. and gallant Friend that a flight lieutenant is not to have powers of requisitioning, but is only to have the power of signing a billeting order. I would like to draw attention, however, to the fact that when these orders are handed to the police they regard them as orders to be obeyed. While agreeing with my right hon. and gallant Friend about the small units responsible for salving aircraft, I admit that there are occasions when a flight lieutenant may be placed in a very difficult position if he has no authority for billeting the men under his command. I would like to suggest that where a flight lieutenant signs a billeting order such as this he should sign for, and on behalf of, a squadron leader, because it is not only a question of rank; it is a question of responsibility. Hon. Members have said that I would withdraw this Prayer and, of course, I will, but I would like to put that point to my right hon. and gallant Friend for his consideration. With those words, and following the helpful explanation which he has given to us, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.